Saltom Pit

Saltom Pit beneath the cliffs, Whitehaven

In 1729 when Saltom Pit was sunk, it was revolutionary as it was England’s first under-sea coal mine.

Work at Saltom saw the start of deep, under-sea mining, and the start of mining as an identity for Whitehaven. Carlisle Spedding, who sank Saltom pit, also sank Thwaite, King, Duke, Moss and Kells pits on the surrounding cliffs. For the next 200 years, pitheads spread along the coast, and tunnels spread out below the sea, leading the way in mining technology and innovation.

Men, women and children worked below the sea bed to dig a labyrinth of tunnels stretching 2km from shore creating a submarine city.

The ruin you see at Saltom today was once the winding engine house. Built when a steam-powered winding engine was installed in 1819. Saltom’s mineshaft had been deepened sixty feet by mining engineer John Piele and the horse-gin used since the sinking of the shaft in 1729 could no longer cope. Piele had the engine house built right next to the shaft, and installed a steam powered winding engine.

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The new engine was compact, ideal for Saltom’s cramped pithead, enclosed by the cliffs and the sea. The clever design placed the winding drum directly above, instead of beside, the steam cylinder. The fact that the crank connected directly to the winder also saved space. Compare this tall, narrow building design to the enormous “hangar” of Haig Pit, and you see just how innovative this engine was. The engine house protected the winder from the corrosive salt spray off Saltom Bay.

Getting coal from the seabed to ground level at Saltom was only half the story. Coal had to be lifted again to the clifftop before it could reach the waiting ships in the harbour. To overcome this a second steam powered winding engine was installed at Ravenhill, above Saltom. Here, with more space available, a traditional long beam engine was used. Wagons then ran the coal down to ships waiting in the harbour below.

Now only ruins of Saltom’s winding engine house remain and the bay is left to nature again – but the stones still hold the echoes of the lives spent below its cliffs.

Saltom Pit, Colourful Coast, Cumbria